Starbucks has cemented an image of itself as America’s coffee shop. A national franchise, the company has over 13,000 locations nationwide. The coffee chain has made concerted efforts to accommodate its customers, including offering complimentary public Wi-Fi and plenty of 120-volt outlets at its stores to power mobile devices.
Whether you’re on a lunch break or just kicking back on a quiet Saturday afternoon, you’ll be able to enjoy a cup of fresh brewed coffee (not to mention dozens of other hot and iced beverage items offered on the menu) as you browse the Web on your connected device.
But before you accept the terms of service to access Starbucks’ public Wi-Fi, there are some measures you should put into place first to ensure that your privacy is safeguarded and that you’re secure.
The reality is that Wi-Fi, specifically public Wi-Fi, will never be secure. With fake public Wi-Fi being used by hackers, along with openly posted Wi-Fi passwords available in countless hacker forums, it is not hard to hack most devices that access a particular Wi-Fi network.
This means that the data that you are sending and receiving from your connected device can be intercepted by criminals and then exploited and resold. As a good rule of thumb, you should always presume that all Wi-Fi, even the Wi-Fi in your home, is vulnerable. So, always err on the side of safety by instead relying on encrypted communication.
Here are some simple measures that you can take to protect yourself and browse safely and securely no matter where you are in the world.
1. Disable Sharing
Your connected device was also designed to interact with other connected devices via a setting called “sharing.” This is an especially popular feature for Apple devices like the Mac. Without sharing disabled on a Mac, for example, other users on the same network could potentially access your files and download them without you even knowing about it.
The same is true for some Bluetooth-enabled devices, PCs and even Android-powered machines. But fortunately, the fix is simple here: Access your settings and disable sharing on any connected device you want to use on a public Wi-Fi before you connect.
Turning off sharing settings is easy:
• On a Mac, you can disable it by accessing System Preferences.
• On a Windows device, you can easily turn off sharing via the Network and Sharing Center.
• You should also disable “network discovery” as well, which means that your connected device will be hidden from other devices that are connected to the network (the public Wi-Fi).
2. Make Sure Your Software Is Updated
Software updates are critical to security. Not only are updates designed to make your device run smoother, but most updates also typically contain important security patches, too.
For example, a major and recent Android update added new security protocols:
“Android Nougat features a re-architected media stack that’s been significantly hardened against common attacks. By incorporating integer overflow sanitization, the stack is much more robust against malformed content, and sandboxing of media processes protects the operating system against privilege escalation. Ultimately these protections provide multiple levels of defense to keep your data safe.”
Apple released an update in late March that also contained critical security patches:
“In the most recent iOS update, Apple patched a new bug, identified as CVE-2018-4140, which similarly could have triggered iOS devices to restart after receiving a malicious SMS text message.”
The rule of thumb is simple here: Don’t delay software updates to your connected devices — they usually contain very important security updates that help keep your information secure when browsing the internet.
3. Use A VPN
If you want to keep hackers out and lock down your connection entirely, you should consider using a virtual private network. (Full disclosure: I run VPN.com, a company that provides VPN research and statistics.)
• VPNs are private, encrypted networks that you log into from your connected device.
• The information you send and receive from the network is encrypted on both sides (end-to-end encryption).
• This protects your data from ever being accessed by third parties because they would need the encryption key to decode it.
When using a VPN, you simply log into the VPN from your connected device and browse to your heart’s content. Some VPNs are free of charge and others are available for a nominal monthly fee. There are thousands of providers to choose from, and each offers its own array of features to help protect your privacy.
4. Make Sure You Have Antivirus Software Installed
If you don’t have antivirus software installed on your connected device, you are not browsing securely. There are countless malicious websites that you can mistakenly visit that might result in you unknowingly downloading viruses, malware and spyware. Fortunately, an antivirus program will help prevent this from happening while providing 24/7 protection.
The internet has become a mainstay in our lives. Most of us can’t imagine a world where we are not connected. By ensuring that you are proactive about your online security, you can access the World Wide Web without having to worry about your privacy or confidential information being compromised — all while enjoying a cup of coffee at your local Starbucks.